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Know Your Roots

The Council Episode 3: Ripples Review

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If you have not read our review containing the previous episodes, it’s highly recommended as it’s not only referenced, but we may not discuss many of the mechanics present in previous episodes.  This was to prevent redundant comments and move directly into the changes in the current episode.  Eventually the link above will serve as the location for all episode reviews.  This review contains no spoilers.

The Council_20180727233902

In many ways I consider the third episode of a five episode series to be the moment of truth.  It seems episodic titles are doomed to have weaker second episodes because of the natural arc of plot and character development, but typically you get a twist and/or climax in the third episode that redeems everything.  While The Council definitely follows this formula, it was disappointing to see that while the story takes some drastic new turns, what you actually play is the same old song and dance.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but it surely wasn’t yet another trip through the mansion followed by a huge dump of exposition and concluding in a long obtuse puzzle…again.  Regardless of those expectations, that’s exactly what I received, which has me weary of future episodes and frankly a bored in the current one.  I didn’t even play this episode a second time, there seemed to be no need.  If you’re not fully invested in the overall season before going into this episode, it’s probably best you stay away for now.

We left Louis in quite the cliffhanger at the end of episode 2, and even though Ripples starts off right at that moment it’s all frantically worked around and you’re back in another council meeting with little activity to report.  There is a bit of investigating you can do in the area before moving on, but how wasteful that it doesn’t turn up any information that holds much value even if you have the right skills at your disposal.  While I found the skill system interesting at the beginning of the overall game, by the time you reach this episode it’s all a tired balance of what you’ve unlocked and how many of the abundant usable resources you’ve collected.  Perhaps I’m more thorough than most but I’m constantly loaded with the maximum number of all four special items during a majority of every episode so far.  Either way, this opening sequence foreshadows the fact that outside of the main story you won’t find much value in any of the skill-based investigations or additional info.

This trend continues in the two confrontations that occur in the first third of the episode only to disappear without a trace for the rest of it.  At this point the two individuals I was at odds with did have higher stakes – in one case if I failed to select an appropriate answer it would mean a potentially fatal failure for the other person – but by this point I knew enough about both people’s immunities and weaknesses that the answers were clear as day.  This mechanic worked with a lot more risk in the first episode, perhaps even to a certain extent in the second, but confrontations need to evolve at this point lest they become pointless given the information you now have at your disposal.  Interestingly, this episode also began to greatly quiz the player on their memory regarding minute details of certain characters, which seemed unrealistic.  I don’t recall the specifics of a conversation in episode 1, especially given that it came out months ago and it’s not fair to assume I or anyone else would replay it just because another episode has come out.  Developer Big Bad Wolf could benefit from either finding a clever way to weave in a recap or making these momentary questions a bit less random and specific.  It’s even topped off by a required decision at the end of questioning with very real consequences that you won’t discover until future episodes.  Ultimately we have a disconnect of too much information for confrontations and too little information for spot check questions from random events.

In direct contrast to these flaws that have continued as episodes progress, the story has picked up and we’ve finally gotten some solid answers to early mysteries.  While you would not be out of place to call the two twists in this episode cliche, I must admit I liked the change in direction.  I’m more passive about storylines, no matter how outlandish, provided that the developer leans into its decisions and takes a confident but realistic approach.  In that regard Ripples does succeed.  Sadly just as soon as it does so, we are greeted with the mother of all fetch quests (six items scattered about the property, really?) followed by a puzzle that I did manage to solve but took far too long and had me constantly wondering if it was worth it.  At this point there’s no doubt a walkthrough online, but keep in mind I played this the first night it was available and that option was not only scarce, but probably wouldn’t be appropriate for a reviewer.  As is the case with many points in this episode, the stakes are pretty high as well with a permanent consequence to Louis should he commit to a solution that is incorrect.  If I spent the 30-40 minutes digging through various texts trying to find the correct answer and getting punished as this episode can for an error, I could see myself getting livid.  Then again, I don’t know that there’s been a good reason to care all that much about what happens to Louis outside of him being the player character, so perhaps I wouldn’t care all that much as long as the story continued (and it does).  Either way, Ripples couldn’t seem to land on a positive note for too long before rearing another ugly head of either weakness or redundancy that has me concerned for the final two episodes.

If you like The Council‘s way of making a modern day adventure game where you explore the same areas over and over with a new objective, knowledge puzzles that are both out of place and often too easy, and the fetch quest that continues to grow in scope, then this will not disappoint.  I know it sounds like I’m being negative as I say that, but  it’s more that I don’t care for this type of gameplay even though I can see why one would.  I may also be against the grain with how I appreciated the new direction of the story as some big questions got answered, but the plot is hardly good enough to excuse the gameplay if it isn’t your thing.  I was hoping to see an uptick in episode three as I’ve seen in several other titles, but the fact is Ripples didn’t have it and The Council is quickly becoming a one-trick pony.  While I remain cautiously optimistic of the direction, it still continues to be a missed opportunity to the point that the skill system seems almost unnecessary and the consequences to your actions are vague at best.  Here’s hoping it can all be turned around in the next episode, but I feel this episode was rushed out with no new ideas and completely eliminates the purpose of an episodic title.

Final Score: 2 out of 5

A review code was provided by the publisher for this review.  Ripples is available now for season pass holders and later as an individual episode.  It took approximately 2 1/2 hours to complete.  The Council can be found on Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Steam for $29.99 as a complete season package.  On consoles only, individual episodes can be found for $6.99 apiece a week after it releases to season pass holders.

Written by Fred Rojas

July 30, 2018 at 11:00 am

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